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This blog is purely informational and not meant to take the place of individual medical nutrition therapy (MNT). For serious medical conditions, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. 

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Q: How many calories do I need for weight loss?

A: Calorie reduction is critical for weight loss. Below are a variety of ways to set your calorie goal.

Some people use an online food tracker like MyFitnessPal, which will calculate your calorie needs based on your height, weight, age, gender, level of physical activity, and weight goals.

Dietitians use formulas like the Mifflin St. Jeor equation to estimate a patient's needs. Most dietitians caution against reducing calories below 1,200 per day for women, or 1,600 per day for men, unless medically supervised.

In a medical or research setting, a person can have their metabolic rate measured using some pretty fancy equipment like an indirect calorimeter. However, few people get that opportunity.

For the most personalized calculation of your calorie needs, follow these steps:

1. Track your food and calories for one week.

2. After one week of tracking your food, calculate your average daily calories. For example:

Monday: 1,897

Tuesday: 1,563

Wednesday: 1,688

Thursday: 1623

Friday: 2,107

Saturday: 2,232

Sunday: 1,891

Add the total = 13,001

Divide the total by 7 to get the daily average: 1857.3 (Or about 1800-1900 calories per day)

3. Then see if your weight went down, went up or stayed the same.

If you lost about 1 to 2 pounds, continue within that calorie range. It's working!

If your weight stayed the same, set a goal for 500 calories less per day. In this example, the average intake was around 1,800 calories per day. For weight loss, reduce calories to about 1,300 per day. However, try not to reduce calories below 1,200 per day for women or 1,600 calories per day for men to make sure you're getting enough nutrients for good health.

If your weight went up, look at your food log and identify which foods were adding too many calories. Common culprits include

  • Frequent restaurant meals.

  • Caloric beverages like juice, pop, coffee drinks, or alcoholic beverages.

  • Snacks or sweets between meals or in the evening.

  • Large portions at meals or snacks.

  • High calorie foods like high fat meat, deep fried foods, cheese or other high fat dairy, sweets and snacks.

Once you identify where your extra calories are coming from, decide which changes you are wiling to make, such as

  • Dine at home or pack a lunch more often.

  • Choose lower calorie foods (examples: chicken instead of beef; baked instead of deep fried foods; fruit instead of chips; etc.).

  • Reduce the frequency of snacks, sweets, or high calorie beverages.

  • Reduce portions of meals or high calorie snacks

As you lose weight, your calorie needs may change over time. Keep tracking your calories and make changes as needed to keep seeing progress.

If you have reduced calories to the minimum amount for good health but your progress has stalled, examine your physical activity. Aim for 150 minutes or more per week of moderate activity to help maintain and support weight loss. If you have trouble maintaining a regular routine, check out these 5 ways to stay motivated to exercise.

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